Chapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics · PDF fileChapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics Smokey Robert Wittig Motivating factors that led to relativistic

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  • Chapter 4.

    Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics

    Smokey Robert Wittig

    Motivating factors that led to relativistic quantum mechanics are discussed. The idea is to underscore the extent to which classical special relativity including electrodynamics play-ed a role in the development of quantum mechanics in general, and relativistic quantum mechanics in particular and how easy it was to misinterpret equations. Special relativi-ty anticipates relativistic quantum field theory. Yet, quantum chemistry requires that the number of particles remains fixed, making subtle interpretation unavoidable.

  • Chapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


  • Chapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics



    1. Klein-Gordon Equation 249 Four-Momentum 250 Maintaining Lorentz Invariance 251 Algebra 253 2-Component Form 254 Currents and Densities 256 Charged Currents 258 Antiparticle 259 Klein-Gordon Field 260 Example 1.1. Free Particle 261 Example 1.2. Klein Paradox 264 Explanation 268 Phonon Model Revisited 268 Back to the Step Potential 270 Relativistic Quantum Field Theory: Pair Production 270 Comments on Relativistic Quantum Field Theory 272 2. Introducing Spin: Pauli's Approach 274 Using 2 x 2 Matrices 275 Pauli Equation 276 Classical Model 278 3. Spin Exchange Symmetry 280 4. Dirac Equation: van der Waerden's Approach 283 Interpretation 284 Recall Klein-Gordon 285 Dirac Equation 286 Manipulation into a Standard Form 287 5. Diracs approach 290 Example 5.1. Free Particle at Rest 294 Example 5.2. Free Particle in Motion 295 Normalization 297 Example 5.3. Large and Small Spinor Components 298 Pauli Limit 300 Higher Order Terms 301 Alternate Derivation 305 Including the Vector Potential 305

  • Chapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


    Dirac Hamiltonian (order c 2 ) for Particle Interacting with Fields 308 Interpretation 308 Example 5.4. The Darwin Term and Zitterbewegung 309 Derivation 311 Example 5.5. Chiral Representation 315 Chiral Waves 316 Balls and Springs 318 Dirac Equation in Chiral Representation 318 Interpretation 320 Rabi Oscillation 321 Example 5.6. Darwin Term 322 Different Sides of the Same Coin 325 Inner and Outer Products 326 References 327

    Seeing the Light Robert Wittig

  • Chapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


    1. Klein-Gordon Equation

    The quest for a mathematical theory of quantum mechanics began with great ambition. At the very least it should be consistent with the theory of special relativity that had revo-lutionized classical physics. Some were even bold enough to seek consistency with gen-eral relativity a goal that to this day remains elusive. Most of this early work centered on the energy-momentum relationship

    E 2 = m2c4 + p2c2 . (1.1)

    where !p = ! m!v for massive particles. A photon, having m = 0,

    obeys E = pc. Thus, the magnitude of its momentum is p = E / c = h / ! . The French physicist Louis de Broglie (photo) argued, on the basis of eqn (1.1), that a particle-wave in free space must also obey p = h / ! . Thus was born the de Broglie wavelength and wave mechanics. Louis de Broglie was born in 1892 to an aristocratic family of means in the small seaport town of Dieppe, Siene-Maritime in Normandy: Louis-Victor-Pierre-Raymond, 7th duc de Bro-glie. As a young man, he was neither inclined toward overwork, nor in any particular hurry to complete a thesis. It is said that his advisor invited him to his country estate for a long weekend. However, immediately upon his arrival, de Broglie was restricted, under lock and key, to several rooms in the main building. His advisor would not let him out until he wrote something. What he produced over a period of sever-al days netted him the 1929 Nobel Prize. It would not be politically correct, but I have at times thought of trying something like this. These five relatively brief sections on relativistic quantum mechanics serve to intro-duce the subject. Jumping straight into the celebrated cornerstone of relativistic quantum mechanics and quantum field theory, the Dirac equation, is too abrupt for my taste. Ra-ther, a somewhat historical route is followed in which attention is paid to early attempts at a theory of relativistic quantum mechanics. Moving forward from de Broglie's seminal contribution takes us to the subject of the present chapter, the Klein-Gordon equation, which was the first relativistic (Lorentz co-variant) quantum mechanical model. To the best of my knowledge, the Klein-Gordon equation is not used nowadays in either physics or quantum chemistry except for some work with pions.1 It nonetheless serves as an excellent pedagogical tool for the introduc-tion of concepts. Disparaged shortly after its introduction, it was resurrected and vindi-cated a decade later when Pauli and his postdoc Victor Weisskopf showed that it is really

    1 On the other hand, the "Klein paradox," as of this writing, is a hot topic in the area of graphene physics. However, the relevant equation of motion is the Dirac equation, not the Klein-Gordon equation, though the difference is not large insofar as the paradox.

  • Chapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


    an equation in relativistic quantum field theory. This is a case where an incautious assumption at the outset led to misinterpretation.

    Four-Momentum A free particle in the non-relativistic limit obeys: E = p2 / 2m . The p in p2 / 2m is a 3D object, and we know how to deal with it in non-relativistic quantum mechanics. How-ever, Lorentz covariance requires that momentum transform as a four-vector. Specifical-ly, it is necessary to ensure that the quantum mechanical momentum operator p0 is in ac-cord with its classical counterpart, E / c . For the time being, carats will be placed atop symbols to denote their operator status. When p1 acts on the wave function of a free particle moving in the x-direction with specified momentum, it must yield h / ! times . Because is proportional to eikx (where k = 2 / ), consistency with the classical three-momentum is achieved using p1 = i!!

    1 . Lowering the index with the metric tensor !" yields the familiar covariant form: !i!"1 . In other words, operating on with !i!"1 yields h / ! = !k times , and likewise for the other spatial components when ei

    !k !!r is used. The component p0 is taken

    to be i!! 0 where x0 = ct, and lowering this gives i!!0 . From the correspondence with the classical expression for the four-momentum, it follows that the eigenvalue of p0 (equivalently, of p0 ) must be E / c .2 Thus, i!c!0" = i!! t" = E! = ( p

    2 / 2m)! . This reasoning yields the Schrdinger equation:

    i!! t" = E! = H! . (1.2)

    The arguments leading to eqn (1.2) do not constitute a derivation. They support an in-ference, or educated guess, on the basis of the behavior of a free particle, with the issue of spin put to the side, but not forgotten. A single derivative with respect to time appears in the non-relativistic limit given by the Schrdinger equation. The fact that the equation contains a first derivative with respect to time and a second derivative with respect to space makes it impossible for it to satisfy Lorentz covariance. There are ways to intro-duce relativistic effects into Schrdinger quantum mechanics (effective core potentials, spin-orbit operators, and other terms), but the theory cannot be made relativistic. The above approach assigns operator status to energy through correspondence be-tween the components of the classical four-momentum ( E / c,

    !p ) and the components of a quantum mechanical operator. In so doing, it avoids having to deal with the square root that arises with eqn (1.1). Specifically, the fact that E = (m2c4 + p2c2 )1/2 forces one to deal with what appears to be negative translational energy. Alternatively, the Schrdinger equation can be obtained from eqn (1.1) by taking the square root of each side of eqn (1.1) and expanding the positive square root on the right hand side in the small-p limit. This gives mc2 (1+ p2 /m2c2 )1/2 ! mc2 + p2 / 2m . How-ever, this maneuver requires that we retain just the positive square root. This makes a 2 A free particle's phase can be expressed as the contraction of four-vectors: k! x! = ! t "

    !k # !r . It

    is invariant with respect to Lorentz transformation.

  • Chapter 4. Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


    great deal of sense on physical grounds, as the negative square root implies that the particle's translational energy is negative, which of course is impossible. Unfortunately, mathematics does not permit us to toss out half the solutions just because we do not like them. The solutions constitute a complete set of functions for the differential equation at hand. If some are removed, it is then impossible to meet the requirements of Lorentz covariance. Consequently, though the correct result for the non-relativistic limit is obtained, Lorentz covariance is eliminated up front when only the positive square root is taken, that is, even prior to taking the small-p limit. Schrdinger was one of the first scientists to work on this problem. However, he put aside relativistic quantum mechanics because of his inability to introduce spin, as well as to find a way around the square root that gave unphysical results. Instead, he had to settle for the Schrdinger equation. You must admit